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A Brief History on Drug Addiction & Mental Health

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By Trisha Miller

drug addiction and mental healthThe development of IV treatments can be traced back to the Middle Ages. It was originally used for blood transfusions long before it was ever used for medical treatments. However, it took quite a long time before this tactic was perfected. In the 1830s Dr. Thomas Latta discovered that injecting salty water into the veins of cholera patients helped them to remain hydrated during treatment. It was around this same time that doctors began administering drugs like morphine, heroin, and cocaine via IV to their patients in order to ease their pain during surgeries and recovery. This is when we begin to see the first cases of widespread addiction.

Coincidentally, around 1840, an activist by the name of Dorothea Dix recognized mental illness as an involuntary condition instead of something to be feared. Up until this time people around the world still believed that the cause of “insanity” was due to witches, spirits, and demons. Sadly, this stigmatization of mental illness, on a much smaller scale, still exists today. Dorothea began working with the government in order to improve the living conditions and treatment of mentally ill patients. She and other advocates worked for the next 40 years in order to open 32 psychiatric hospitals.

Coping Mechanisms

Unfortunately, due to the aforementioned social stigmas, many individuals are ashamed to seek help for their mental health. Many see treatment as an admission of weakness or are just simply afraid of the scrutiny they may face if others find out about their condition. No one wants to be treated differently or like less of a person because of an illness that is out of their control. As a result, victims of mental conditions often turn to drug use in order to cope with their pain.

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In addition, there are many others that simply can’t afford the treatment they deserve. Whether that be medication or some form of therapy, many health plans do not cover this type of treatment. Furthermore, mental health is not yet completely considered a “health” issue in the same way that a physical ailments are, like back pain or a broken bone. Although not visible to the naked eye, mental illness is still very much a real condition. Just to give you an idea, one in 25 people suffer from a debilitating mental illness which severely affects their quality of life.

Does Drug Abuse Cause Mental Illness or Vice Versa?

This issue has been studied many times over and presently, there just isn’t a clear way to tell which came first. While there are a large amount of mental health cases intertwined with drug abuse, many remain completely separate. As such, it’s almost impossible to say with absolute certainty that one is a catalyst for the other. What’s more, there are numerous factors that play into mental illness including genetics, traumatic events & stress over time, and physical injuries or abnormalities that may cause chemical imbalances in the brain. Any and all of these variables can play into a single individual’s mental health.

Again, just as physical health changes over time, so does mental health. You may not begin to experience chronic back pain that exists in your family until your thirties or fourties. Just the same, many mental illnesses are not identified until around the same time. Statistics show that three quarters of all chronic mental illnesses do not begin until age 24 or higher. This reinforces the fact that one trait may lie dormant in an individual until it is triggered by genetics or a traumatic event, which means that drug addiction and/or a mental illness may not become an issue until later in life. Thus, we are still no closer to understanding which may have provoked the other.

The above shows that neither a drug addiction or mental illness is necessarily “required” in order for the other to be present. However, it is easy to see that each individual condition without a doubt exacerbates the other. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, drug addiction is a mental illness. “Addiction changes the brain in fundamental ways, disturbing a person’s normal hierarchy of needs and desires and substituting new priorities connected with procuring and using the drug. The resulting compulsive behaviors that override the ability to control impulses despite the consequences are similar to hallmarks of other mental illnesses”.

Regardless of whether or not drug addiction and mental illnesses are one in the same, they deserve to be treated in the same manner. Socially, both conditions are met with a plethora of misinformation and unpleasant connotations towards the sufferer of the illness. As discussed above, there are countless reasons why someone may turn to drugs or fall victim to their mental illness, but we must understand that neither of these conditions is a choice.

If you believe that you or someone you know is suffering from a mental health condition or drug addiction please seek professional help immediately. Even if you or a loved one seem to have lost their way due to self-destructive behaviors as a result of a mental illness, hope is not lost. Everyone can take control over their condition with proper support. Asking for help is the first step towards conquering your disease.